Why does the millennial generation suffer from more anxiety than others?
May is Mental Health Awareness Month so this is a great time to spread awareness about anxiety. It is nothing new to hear young people use phrases like “I can’t even right now,” “I literally can’t,” and “don’t judge me.” To someone hearing this as a passing ear, they might think that they are being obnoxious or annoying, but there is so much more that lies beneath these phrases that we don’t think about. The millennial generation suffers from anxiety, and, whether you realize it or not, it is a prevalent issue. Even though the Baby Boomers suffered with anxiety, why do we suffer 12% more? According to hhs.gov, the five major types of anxiety disorders are:
Generalized Anxiety Disorder, GAD, is an anxiety disorder characterized by chronic anxiety, exaggerated worry and tension, even when there is little or nothing to provoke it.
Obsessive-Compulsive Disorder, OCD, is an anxiety disorder and is characterized by recurrent, unwanted thoughts (obsessions) and/or repetitive behaviors (compulsions). Repetitive behaviors such as hand-washing and washing, counting, checking, or cleaning are often performed with the hope of preventing obsessive thoughts or making them go away. Performing these so-called “rituals,” however, provides only temporary relief, and not performing them markedly increases anxiety.
Panic disorder is an anxiety disorder and is characterized by unexpected and repeated episodes of intense fear accompanied by physical symptoms that may include chest pain, heart palpitations, shortness of breath, dizziness, or abdominal distress.
Social Phobia, or Social Anxiety Disorder, is an anxiety disorder characterized by overwhelming anxiety and excessive self-consciousness in everyday social situations. Social phobia can be limited to only one type of situation – such as a fear of speaking in formal or informal situations, or eating or drinking in front of others – or, in its most severe form, may be so broad that a person experiences symptoms almost anytime they are around other people.”
One common misconception is the difference between stress and anxiety. Bustle.com, an independent online magazine, says “in brief, stress is generally a temporary experience, while anxiety is a sustained mental health issue. Anxiety is one of the most common mental health issues in the U.S., with an estimated 40 million adults dealing with anxiety disorder at some point in their lives. Stress, meanwhile, is simply your body’s reaction to a change or a challenge, which can vary in length and severity.” HealthStatus.com provides more in-depth information regarding the symptoms and causes of stress and anxiety. “Stress is caused by an existing stress-causing factor or stressor. Anxiety is stress that continues after that stressor is gone. Stress can come from any situation or thought that makes you feel frustrated, angry, nervous, or even anxious. What is stressful to one person is not necessarily stressful to another. Anxiety is a feeling of apprehension or fear and is almost always accompanied by feelings of impending doom. The source of this uneasiness is not always known or recognized, which can add to the distress you feel. Here is an example to help put these long definitions into perspective. Stress is more of a worry in the moment that is caused by a situation out of your control. For example, you feel stressed when you are late going somewhere and there is traffic, but once you get to where you are going your stress goes away. Anxiety, on the other hand, is like thinking about a conversation that you had earlier in the day, going over and over what you said and if you offended the other person or if what you said got across how you meant it to. Dwelling on something is common, and can sometimes become obsessive; but in your head, you can make the problem worse than it actually is.
Stuart Light, MA, LMFT, a practicing therapist and AUSB professor, provided information regarding the prevalence of anxiety in millennials:
Do you see an increase in anxiety in millennials more than before?
I do see an increase in anxiety in millennials, without a doubt. The largest percentage of people ages 21-34 are living at home with their parents because they can’t generate enough income to afford to buy homes, or even rent apartments at today’s rates. This relates to the declining number of good paying jobs for the great number of college graduates that earn a BA and leave school with enormous student loan debt and fewer prospects for solid employment.
Do you think that millennials have more anxiety than other generations?
It would be hard to quantify exactly how much more anxiety millennials experience above previous generations, but research is clear that more young people, particularly those that go to really high ranking colleges are suffering from record rates of anxiety, depression, substance abuse, cutting, and even suicide.
What do you think contributes to this anxiety?
There is more “external” pressure on this generation to get good grades, go to good schools, and succeed in a world that is increasingly becoming harder to succeed in. Stress related symptoms and illnesses are on the rise. The security of a solid, middle class existence is rapidly fading out of view. Trust in the future is declining. Trust in institutions and leaders is declining. Competition is increasing, and technology is rapidly expanding. And believe me, the negative effects of social media obsession are great. How can one not be anxious when they constantly see how “great” others are doing compared to them? Even though they know that so much of what appears is made up bullshit.
When should you go get help for anxiety?
One should go get help from anxiety when it starts to degrade one’s ability to function well in important aspects of life. In other words, as soon as it becomes more than simply annoying. Kindled anxiety (little things that build and build until they become a bonfire) can lead to panic attacks, severe depression, and very often substance abuse and other problematic coping mechanisms. An ounce of prevention is worth a pound of cure, as the saying goes.”
Technology and Anxiety
Some believe one factor that contributes to millennial anxiety is the use of technology. We are constantly plugged into our devices, and when we can’t be we don’t know what to do. We can no longer enjoy the moment without Snapchatting it or taking a picture for Instagram. This leads us to be constantly preoccupied. We are constantly comparing ourselves to others and what they are doing. This is a detrimental cycle because a lot of what we see on social media is not real, but we still feel inadequate. Studies have shown that the use of technology and social media impact anxiety and mental health. This is not our fault though; the millennials are the first generation to grow up with the internet, so this makes millennials predisposed to the woes of technology. A good amount of time that we do spend on our phones, which is around 3 hours a day, is spent looking at what is happening around the world. We like to be informed and up to date with what is going on around us. This is both a good and bad thing because a large amount of what we see on these news sites is traumatic and tragic. Therefore, around 3 hours of our day can be filled with news of teen suicide, chemical warfare, genocide, school shootings, and terrorist attacks. These things take a big toll on our psyche. Our parent’s generation got their news in one several ways, including either by reading the newspaper, listening to the radio, or watching the news. However, this information wasn’t in their face throughout the day like it is now.
Living up to older generations’ expectations doesn’t help guide our life choices. We are expected to be married and have kids while having a career by the time we are 30, just like our parents. They married their high school sweethearts and from there is was easy sailing. The man would go to work and the women would be a stay at home mom and raise their children. Now, with equal rights for men and women along with feminism on the rise, all of this has changed. Women no longer rely on a man to “bring home the bacon”; they can now do this on their own. Even if women do make 70 cents to a man’s dollar in the workforce, this is a huge gap. We are now waiting to make these life changing decisions regarding kids and marriage; is this because we have more options in society now than before? Or is it because we saw 50% of our parents’ marriages crash and burn? Due to this uncharted territory that affects the everyday lives of millennials, it is no surprise that all these new social pressures and choices increase levels of anxiety.
On top of the wage gap and other societal pressures, it is even
harder to get a job, and when we graduate with our degrees we have student debt, things that most of our parents are a stranger to. Going to college to get your degree is a big step, and contributes a lot to this anxiety that we feel. We sit at a desk for most of our days either in a lecture or doing homework, and drink endless amounts of coffee to stay awake. If you are like most of our generation, you may not know that coffee is detrimental to someone with anxiety. Caffeine is a stimulant that causes us to be more aware, but if our underlying awareness is anxious or stressed, this only exacerbates the problem causing an unwanted panic attack, or other symptoms related to anxiety. When a good majority of millennials are not studying, we need to go to Happy Hour, or or even abuse drugs to relax. Drugs and alcohol have a numbing effect on anxiety according to an article from drugabuse.com.
“So which drugs have risen to prominence as the most popular among Millennials? For this generation, the trend is especially clear: Prescription painkiller abuse is more common among Millennials than any generation before. At their peaks, fewer than 8% of Boomers and Gen Xers abused painkillers in the past year – but over 12% of Millennials ages 19–20 report recent painkiller abuse. As prescription opioid abuse, diversion, and overdose continue to plague the U.S., this generation could be at greater risk of addiction than ever.” While millennials use these substances to curb their anxiety symptoms, they have a larger negative effect.
Students/Millennials often skip meals due to having no time within their busy schedules, which slows down the metabolism and sends blood sugar levels all over the place, which can have an impact on anxiety symptoms. This factor also relates to another anxiety inducing issue of our generation: unrealistic body images that we see in our media. So we skip a meal to hopefully look like celebrities and social media stars (that are photo shopped) and this affects our diet, and health overall. When our blood sugar drops from skipping a meal, we tend to have higher anxiety. We feel shaky, light headed, and irritable. This leads to stress in our bodies that can induce a panic attack.
Even when it’s not Mental Health Awareness Month, this is an issue that needs more attention in order to raise awareness, and discourage millennials from creating harmful habits that make their anxiety symptoms worse. Talking about this issue is a great way to get the word out there, and let others know they are not alone. A follow-up article will discuss ways for millennials to deal with their anxiety.